Rahul Sharma (Editor)

1997 NCAA Division I A football season

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Bowl games  20
Coaches Poll #1  Nebraska Cornhuskers
Start date  1997
Number of teams  112
AP Poll #1  Michigan Wolverines
National championship  1998 Orange Bowl
Site  Hard Rock Stadium
1997 NCAA Division I-A football season httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu
Preseason AP #1  Penn State Nittany Lions
Duration  December 20, 1997 – January 2, 1998
Heisman Trophy  Charles Woodson, Michigan CB
Similar  1998 NCAA Division I, 1999 NCAA Division I, 2002 NCAA Division I, 2001 NCAA Division I, 1982 NCAA Division I

The 1997 NCAA Division I-A football season, play of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division I-A level, began in late summer 1997 and culminated with the major bowl games in early January 1998. The national championship was split for the third time in the 1990s. The Michigan Wolverines finished the season atop the AP Poll after completing a 12–0 campaign with a Big Ten Conference championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl over Washington State. The Nebraska Cornhuskers garnered the top ranking in the Coaches' Poll with a 13–0 record, a Big 12 Conference championship, and a win over Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. Michigan's Charles Woodson, who played primarily at cornerback, but also saw time on offense as a wide receiver and on special teams as a punt returner, won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first primarily defensive player to win the award. The 1997 season was the third and final season in which the major bowl games were organized under the Bowl Alliance system. The Bowl Championship Series was instituted the following year.


In Tom Osborne's last season as head coach, Nebraska took over the #1 ranking in the nation after defeating Texas Tech midway through the season. Three weeks later, despite winning at Missouri in an overtime game, Nebraska slipped to a #2 ranking in the polls, as voters weren't impressed by the way the Cornhuskers won the game (a controversial kicked ball that was caught for the game-tying TD as time expired in regulation); Michigan moved ahead of Nebraska after its 34-8 victory over #3 ranked Penn State.

The consensus #1 team going into the bowl season was undefeated Michigan, led by coach of the year Lloyd Carr and Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. Michigan went into the 1998 Rose Bowl against #8 Washington State ranked #1 in both the AP and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. Michigan defeated Washington State 21–16.

Undefeated #2 Nebraska squared off in the 1998 Orange Bowl versus the #3 ranked Tennessee Volunteers. Unusually for the low-key Osborne and his straight-ahead team, the Cornhuskers made a point of smacking down Tennessee as they defeated the Volunteers 42-17, and after the game campaigned openly for Nebraska to be named the consensus national champion (Grant Wistrom stated that if "they wanted to give it to Michigan because they haven't won one in 50 years, we don't want it anyway.").

After the bowl games, the AP poll awarded the national championship to Michigan, and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll awarded the national championship to Nebraska, giving Tom Osborne his third national title in four seasons to cap his career. This also marked the last time that a Big 10 (or Pac-10) team would be bound to play in the Rose Bowl instead of heading to a #1-#2 title game, due to the 1998 BCS realignment.

The national title picture could have been even murkier as Florida State went into their final regular season game ranked #1. However, Fred Taylor of Florida would run for 162 yards and four touchdowns on the nation's top-ranked run defense, one of those touchdowns being the winning score with less than two minutes to play. This game is commonly referred to as "The Greatest Game Ever Played in the Swamp".

The Humanitarian Bowl, now known as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, began play in Boise, Idaho to help publicise the dwindling Big West Conference and Boise State. The Broncos with their blue turf had just made the jump to Division I-A a year earlier. The Big West champion had formerly gone to the Las Vegas Bowl, but the now only 6 team conference wasn't much of a seat filler.

The Motor City Bowl, now the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, began play in Detroit hosted by a MAC team.

The Copper Bowl gained corporate sponsorship and was now known as the Insight.com Bowl; it is now known as the Cactus Bowl.

The MAC also grew to a 12-team, two-division conference with a championship game after the return of two former MAC members—Northern Illinois, returning from the independent ranks, and Marshall, moving up from Division I-AA. Marshall's addition increased the number of teams in Division I-A to 112. In a scenario similar to the Big West in 1992, this up-and-comer from I-AA was able to win its division and the inaugural conference championship game in its first year. To be fair, the Thundering Herd had gone unbeaten and won the I-AA national title the previous season, and had future NFL stars Randy Moss and Chad Pennington.

Rule changes

  • Starting with the third overtime period, teams must go for a two-point conversion after a touchdown.
  • Strengthened the enforcement of chop blocks.
  • Charged teams with a time-out if a player is not wearing their mouth guard. If a team is out of time-outs when the infraction occurs, a five-yard penalty is assessed.
  • Changed the penalty for roughing the punt receiver to 15 yards if he is contacted by a defender within six feet after catching the ball.
  • Requiring the game clock be started once the ball is kicked on kickoffs and free kicks after safeties except in the final 2:00 of each half.
  • The clock for halftime was to be started immediately following the conclusion of the second quarter. Previously, the clock did not start until all participants had cleared the field and the referee signaled the timekeeper to start the clock.
  • The officials' uniforms now include a letter on the back showing their position ("R" for Referee, "U" for Umpire, "H" for Head Linesman, etc.). The Big Eight Conference was the first to require this in the mid-1980s, followed shortly thereafter by the Southwest Conference and the Pacific-10 Conference. The Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten Conference and Southeastern Conference did not require this until the NCAA made it mandatory.
  • Conference and program changes

    One team upgraded from Division I-AA prior to the season. As such, the total number of Division I-A schools increased again, from 111 to 112.

  • The MAC added two new members, independent (and former member) Northern Illinois and Division I-AA power Marshall, to expand to 12 teams. The league subsequently formed two divisions and added a league championship game.
  • East Carolina joined a conference for the first time since Division I split in 1978, becoming a member of Conference USA.
  • AP Poll progress

    +Penn State and Michigan were Big Ten teams, and Washington was a Pac-10 team. The Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences played in the Rose Bowl rather than the Bowl Alliance championship game.

    Final AP Poll

    1. Michigan
    2. Nebraska
    3. Florida State
    4. Florida
    5. UCLA
    6. North Carolina
    7. Tennessee
    8. Kansas St.
    9. Washington St.
    10. Georgia
    11. Auburn
    12. Ohio St.
    13. LSU
    14. Arizona St.
    15. Purdue
    16. Penn St.
    17. Colorado St.
    18. Washington
    19. So. Mississippi
    20. Texas A&M
    21. Syracuse
    22. Mississippi
    23. Missouri
    24. Oklahoma St.
    25. Georgia Tech

    Others receiving votes: 26. Arizona; 27. Oregon; 28. Air Force; 29. Marshall; 30. Virginia; 31. Clemson; 32. Louisiana Tech; 33. Mississippi St.; 34. Michigan St.; 35. Wisconsin; 36. New Mexico ; 37. Cincinnati; 38. Notre Dame; 39. Iowa; 40. Virginia Tech.

    Final Coaches Poll

    1. Nebraska
    2. Michigan
    3. Florida State
    4. North Carolina
    5. UCLA
    6. Florida
    7. Kansas St.
    8. Tennessee
    9. Washington St.
    10. Georgia
    11. Auburn
    12. Ohio St.
    13. Louisiana St.
    14. Arizona St.
    15. Purdue
    16. Colorado St.
    17. Penn St.
    18. Washington
    19. Southern Mississippi
    20. Syracuse
    21. Texas A&M
    22. Mississippi
    23. Missouri
    24. Oklahoma St.
    25. Air Force

    Others receiving votes: 26. Clemson (58); 27. Georgia Tech (55); 28. Iowa (32); 29. Louisiana Tech (31); 30. Oregon (25); 31. Cincinnati (24); 32. Arizona (23); 33. Mississippi St. (20); 34. Michigan St. (16); 35. New Mexico and Wisconsin (13); 37. Tulane (10); 38. Virginia (9); 39. West Virginia (7); 40. Marshall (4); 41. Notre Dame (1).

    Heisman Trophy

    Charles Woodson of Michigan won the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the "most outstanding player in collegiate football."

    Other major awards

  • Maxwell Award (College Player of the Year) – Peyton Manning, Tennessee
  • Walter Camp Award (Back) – Charles Woodson, Michigan
  • Davey O'Brien Award (Quarterback) – Peyton Manning, Tennessee
  • Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (Senior Quarterback) – Peyton Manning, Tennessee
  • Doak Walker Award (Running Back) – Ricky Williams, Texas
  • Fred Biletnikoff Award (Wide Receiver) – Randy Moss, Marshall
  • Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Defensive Player) – Charles Woodson, Michigan
  • Dick Butkus Award (Linebacker) – Andy Katzenmoyer, Ohio St.
  • Lombardi Award (Lineman or Linebacker) – Grant Wistrom, Nebraska
  • Outland Trophy (Interior Lineman) – Aaron Taylor, Nebraska
  • Jim Thorpe Award (Defensive Back) – Charles Woodson, Michigan
  • Lou Groza Award (Placekicker) – Martin Gramatica, Kansas State
  • Paul "Bear" Bryant Award – Lloyd Carr, Michigan
  • Football Writers Association of America Coach of the Year Award: Mike Price, Washington St.
  • References

    1997 NCAA Division I-A football season Wikipedia

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